I’ll admit that, as of writing this review, I have not seen the 1960 The Magnificent Seven, though I have seen the film that inspired it, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. And while there are some things that really haven’t changed in the past 62 years, I really don’t want this review to be a comparison between the two movies. I just want to establish that I have seen arguably the best version of this story told so far, and I realize this movie doesn’t come close. But they were also made for completely different reasons.
Kurosawa went four times over budget, filmed over the course of a year, and pushed everyone involved to the limit in freezing temperatures to tell a story about class differences and people claiming a pyrrhic victory against the end of their way of life. This was an end of summer blockbuster from the guy who directed Olympus Has Fallen. And I plan to review this movie on what it is, not what it isn’t or could have been.
And what The Magnificent Seven is, is a perfectly fun late-summer action flick. It’s a movie full of fun set-piece moments, quippy characters, and just enough internal logic to snap you from one gunfight to the next.
The roster this time around, more diverse than ever, are all pretty equally superficially fun, each just being a different flavor of sharp-shooter. Sam Chisolm, Denzel Washington’s deputized officer of the law, is a quick draw with a pistol; while Ethan Hawke’s Goodnight Robicheaux – an ex-Confederate sniper with PTSD – prefers a rifle. Chris Pratt’s chatty gambler Faraday misdirects his enemies with card tricks; and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as the Mexican outlaw, Vasquez, specializes in shooting two guns at once. And instead of guns, Byung-hun Lee’s Billy prefers throwing knives; Martin Sensmeier as Comanche warrior Red Harvest slings arrows; and Vincent D’Onofrio as air-headed mountain-man Jack Horne hurls axes or his own body-weight around. They’re all ridiculously deadly, and have almost no inner lives nor real motivations to be in the movie besides it being an excuse to be badasses. Sure, it doesn’t really make sense that an ex-Confederate would so quickly take orders from a Black ex-Union soldier, or that a man known for scalp collecting would immediately hit it off with a Comanche; but because each of these guys are likable on their own, you can just assume that sure, they’d all get along pretty well.
The seven are called to action by the fiery red-headed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), a recently made widow of the small town of Rose Creek. The man who killed her husband, Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) – a robber-baron, wants to turn Rose Creek into a goldmine and doesn’t hesitate to show that he’d kill everyone in the town so long as it gets them off “his” land. The seven have about a week to turn the town of Rose Creek into an army that can defend themselves from Bogue’s forces. Only Chisolm is given a real reason why he’s so invested in helping, but the movie doesn’t let itself get stuck on small stuff like character motivations when there’s stand-offs and shoot-outs to be had.
And the shoot-outs are plentiful and exciting. Four of the seven are introduced by way of murdering others, while the other three prove their abilities by the second act. Like the movie as a whole, many of the big action-scenes work moment-to-moment rather than as a cohesive whole. While characters at times seemingly warp around Rose Creek, every shot takes a clear straight line through the air towards its target, so not a single shot feels cheap. Even one third act superweapon, while seemingly able to hit any single spot in town, never feels like its shooting homing bullets. It’s not a masterpiece, but The Magnificent Seven pulls its weight as an action blockbuster, keeping its big set-pieces fast and frantic, and providing plenty of moments that’ll make you lean in and triumphantly pump your fist when someone makes a particularly cool looking shot.
The Magnificent Seven whiffs its supposedly somber ending, doesn’t do anything really interesting with its diverse cast of characters and their relationship to the setting, and barely tries to be about anything, but it’s a fun way to burn two hours. The characters are funny, different enough where anyone can find a favorite, and they all shoot stuff real good, which sometimes, is all you really need to be entertained.